8 Foods That Can Harm Bone Health

by Carmen Roberts, M.S., R.D., L.D.N. Health Professional, Medical Reviewer

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, approximately 54 million Americans have low bone mass, placing them at increased risk of osteoporosis. One major factor that can impact your osteoporosis risk is nutrition. Eating foods rich in calcium and vitamin D (including dairy products, fish, and calcium-fortified products) can help protect your bones. But did you know there are foods that can actually harm bone health? Here are eight foods to avoid.

Various canned foods.

Watch out for high-sodium foods

Foods with added salt can actually make your body lose essential calcium. When you eat too much salt, your body excretes it through your urine, taking some of your body’s stored calcium along with it. About 75 percent of our sodium intake comes from processed and packaged foods (such as cured meats, snack foods, and canned foods), so it’s important to eat fresh food as much as possible to avoid excess sodium. Aim for no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium each day for both bone and heart health.

Tofu with vegetables.

Limit high-oxalate foods

Foods high in oxalate (or oxalic acid) may affect bone health. When oxalate is consumed, it binds to calcium in the gut and is excreted by your body, preventing calcium absorption. Spinach, rhubarb, beet greens, some beans, and soy products (such as edamame, tempeh, and tofu) are high in oxalate. Avoid eating too many high oxalate foods to ensure that your body is absorbing enough calcium from the foods that you eat.

Cup of coffee.

Caffeine can be tricky

Coffee is high in caffeine (about 95 mg for an eight-ounce cup), and caffeine can decrease your body’s ability to absorb calcium from the foods you eat. But here’s the good news: If you’re consuming your Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for calcium, your body can counteract this process. Research has shown that caffeine does not harm bone health if you are meeting your RDA (1200 mg for women ages 51-70, 1000 mg for men ages 51-70). This could be as simple as adding some milk to your daily coffee.

Meat, fish, milk, and eggs as sources of protein.

Don't overdo it with high-protein foods

Excessive protein intake could cause your body to lose calcium because it can bind with this mineral and excrete it through urine. However, there is still some controversy about this subject. Include high-quality protein food sources in your daily diet such as dairy (milk, yogurt, and cheese), fish, poultry, eggs, and lean meat. Unless your physician has recommended a high-protein diet or protein supplement, you are likely getting enough protein in your diet for optimal health.

Baked beans.

Soak beans before eating

While beans are packed with nutrients, they are also high in phylates, another compound that can interfere with your body’s ability to absorb calcium. The good news is that you can actually decrease the amount of phylates in beans by soaking them in water for several hours, rinsing them, and cooking them in fresh water.


Be careful with wheat bran

Wheat bran also contains phylates that can interfere with calcium absorption. If you want to include this whole grain in your diet, eat it a few hours apart from a high-calcium food (like milk or yogurt) to maximize your body’s calcium absorption.

Glass of dark-colored soda.

Cut out the soda

Sodas, particularly dark-colored colas, appear to negatively impact calcium absorption. Replacing milk with soda, which contains phosphoric acid, can lead to a reduction in bone mass and increase your fracture risk. Light-colored sodas do not appear to have this effect. Most colas also contain caffeine, which can impact calcium absorption. A better beverage choice is milk or a calcium-fortified milk alternative (such as coconut or almond milk).

Clinking glasses of beer and wine together.

Limit alcohol

While there is some evidence that moderate drinking may have a positive effect on bone health, it is well-documented that chronic, heavy alcohol use can dramatically affect bone health and increase the risk of developing osteoporosis. If you do drink alcohol, limit intake to no more than one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men.

Well-rounded diet.

A nutrient-rich diet is key for bone health

If you eat a well-balanced diet including dairy products, fish, and fresh fruits and vegetables, you are likely getting adequate nutrients that your body needs. If you feel that you’re falling short, consider talking to a registered dietitian about how you can improve your calcium and vitamin D intake. You can also talk to your physician to see if a calcium or vitamin supplement is right for you to help protect bone health.

Carmen Roberts, M.S., R.D., L.D.N.
Meet Our Writer
Carmen Roberts, M.S., R.D., L.D.N.

Carmen is a Registered Dietitian. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she has spent her career working at Johns Hopkins and is also an adjunct faculty instructor for Excelsior College. Carmen has over 20 years of experience in nutritional counseling, education, writing, and program management and is a certified specialist in adult weight management. She enjoys educating her students and clients about how nutrition affects the body and its role in overall health and wellness.